Author's Note: For those who didn't read "Inevitable," Ric isn't dead in this particular universe. Which makes it all the nicer, in my opinion. The chapter title is a phrase describing the point at which rocks will stop tumbling down a steep slope and settle into place.


Chapter 4: Angle of Repose

ELENA POV

Much later, we lie naked on our sides, drinking in the sight of each other. I feel like I'm years behind on seeing him, enjoying him.

Damon props himself up on an elbow and looks at me seriously. "I know you think this isn't over, but it actually kind of is."

My heart skips a beat. Does he mean us?

"The argument," he clarifies, tracing my lips with his thumb. "Don't look so worried."

Despite his reassurance, he takes a long look at my face before he starts to speak. As if he's trying to memorize the way I looked at him before I knew what he's about to tell me. I try to steel myself, but my stomach is freefalling.

"I went off the rails for sure, so Bonnie and Caroline and everybody else can enjoy a good decade or so of I-told-you-so on my tab," he says flatly. "Two hours after I left, I took a girl out of a bar across the state line and drained her in the woods nearby."

I don't flinch or even blink at his words, but my heart breaks. For her. For him. For me. I watch his eyes go dark and wonder how I should handle this.

I scoot closer and push him onto his back so I can lay my head on his chest. He touches my hair tentatively at first, but when I don't pull away he starts combing his fingers through it, spreading it methodically out until it covers his whole chest. He used to do this all the time, but when I asked him why he liked it, he just smiled and shook his head.

Now, I wish Damon had enough hair that I could hide in it.

"I drained her to the last drop. You probably don't want to hear that, but it's kind of important. You probably don't want to hear this either, but killing as a vampire is different. Unlike Stefan, I tried it both ways. As a human during the war, and later, as a predator. Totally different dynamic. As a vampire, you're built to kill. It feels good in the way that eating when you're hungry feels good. Like sex feels good when it's really been a while. There's this…rush of adrenaline when their heartbeat starts to slow."

In the quiet, I wait to hear the rest. His fingers feel good in my hair, even though I should hate them for what they've done.

"You don't have to hear this," he says. "I could summarize."

"I know. I want to understand," I say without lifting my head. I shouldn't be here. If I was good, I wouldn't be here. My stomach is on fire for that girl in the woods, but my heart is beating slow and peaceful and I don't have the willpower to even consider leaving this room.

"It feels like a turning point. I don't know if you've ever had a religious experience, but it is sort of like that. Sort of like falling in love. The whole world holds its breath for a moment and waits for you. Waits to hear your verdict. Everything that person is, everything they've done, everything they might do if you let them live. All their possibilities. It's your choice. It is ultimate power. You decide whether the world will be a generous place today, or not."

I wonder how this can make sense to me. Surely my brain would reject as illogical an argument this evil. I can't imagine being so selfish as to think I had power like that. But I think I can see how it would be addictive.

"I think the reason I started to like it is that my world was devoid of mercy and I began to exult in it, in a weird, contrary way." He makes an irritated sound. "I don't know. A shrink could probably play with this shit for decades."

He pauses, smoothing my hair across his chest. "After I'd known you for a while and you had started to get to me, I killed a girl. Her name was Jessica. I was getting addicted to the feeling of you being proud of me, to the look in your eye when you thought you saw some new clue that I was a good guy," he says, sarcasm touching his voice.

"I killed that girl to prove that you didn't have total power over me. It wasn't that long after I found out Katherine was a perfidious bitch, and I was done handing my balls over to girls."

"That's a nice way to talk about loving somebody," I can't resist saying.

"Yeah, well, sometimes that's what it feels like. At that point, my road rash from getting thrown under the bus by you and Katherine went all the way to the bone. What I'm saying is that when I killed that girl to prove a point to myself, I still liked the rush. And after that, I just didn't feel like killing anybody for a while, except in a fair fight, which we had plenty of. I had proven to myself that I could kill if I wanted to and it had nothing to do with you, so it was cool. I didn't realize it when we had our latest fight but that was my last real murder."

"So what happened with the girl in the woods, across the state line?" I'm masochistic, maybe, but I want to get this over with. If there's some oasis in this wreckage of morality and sin where we can come to rest together, I want to find it, and I want to find it soon.

"Same thing, Elena. I probably need to grow up a little bit, for as old as I am. I just wanted to throw it in your face that you couldn't control me, that I was evil and foul and you were right to hate me for it, so it didn't matter. That I didn't care."

"But you do."

"Don't be smug," he says. "It's not attractive."

I smile that he can tease me in the midst of this. Maybe we can be okay. Maybe somehow.

"This last girl wasn't fun. I cursed your name in two or three different languages for fucking my head all up and taking the savor out of killing. Yadda, yadda, angst, black nail polish, blew a speaker in my Camaro, realized that in the tradition of great whiney breakups everywhere it wasn't you, it was me."

I turn my head over to look at him.

"Elena, you're messing up my work here," he complains, going back to blanketing himself in my hair. I smile. So it's a comfort thing. I'm good with that. I'm never cutting my hair.

"So you don't like killing anymore," I say, a little afraid to hope.

"Apparently not. Although I purely love a good fight, so don't think I'm going to join the Monk on top of a mountain anytime soon."

"No, I didn't think so," I say, smiling up at him.

He looks away. "Don't do that."

"What?"

"Look at me like that. I didn't do it for you. Just happened. You know, one day what turns you on is just like old dishwater the next."

"I've never noticed you losing interest in any of your sexual kinks," I point out with a hint of a smile.

"Don't distract me, woman," he warns. "This is the last time this century you're going to get me to talk about my feelings, so enjoy it. I'm only doing it now so we clearly do not ever have to repeat the fight we just had."

"In that case, go ahead. By all means." Whatever else he has to say can't be that bad. He said he only killed one person. Only one. After the killing spree I'd been imagining for the last six weeks, it seems like nothing short of a miracle.

"So, I spent some time figuring out how I felt about live feeding. That took longer than it should have because I was pissed about you averse-conditioning me to it with your whole rape-talk thing."

"I love it when you talk behavioralism to me," I tease. I'm being way lighter about this than I should, but God, the relief of the idea that this might be in the past is making me feel a little buzzed.

"Quiet. I'm talking about being mad at you right now," he says with unconvincing irritation. "You had a point about that, too. It was taking away those girls' choice. Even though that made the feeding more pleasant for them, they didn't exactly sign a Red Cross waiver for me. That didn't used to bother me. Now…" he shrugs diffidently. "My other option was to spend some time seducing a girl until she fell in love with me enough to offer me her blood. I've done that a lot in the past." He glances at me. "Kind of off the table now."

"So now what?"

"So I got drunk. A lot. With Ric in Atlanta one night, actually. Did he tell you about that?"

"No!" I'm annoyed. "He could have at least told me you were ok."

"Yeah, not really sure he would have drawn that conclusion from the evidence at hand. Also, I was kinda cranky, so I should give him credit for not repeating things. He tried to beat a little wisdom into my head, but I pretty much washed it in one ear and out the other with whiskey. More loud music, more angst, more bourbon, and I landed at a Goth club outside of New Orleans."

"You've been busy. I've done…pretty much nothing since you've been gone."

"I'm not sure you can count trying to make your blood 80-proof as doing something, Elena," he says dryly. "Anyway, in New Orleans, they actually like our kind. Been a hotspot for a long, long time. I was a little bit of a hit in the local nightlife circuit, and I discovered something else."

"Please don't say Ecstasy."

"Very funny. The last thing I needed at that point was a boner that wouldn't die." He grins. "Does that count as an undead boner?"

I roll my eyes. "You know, I missed you a lot, but not enough to think you're funny."

I'm feeling a lot better, except that the darkest corner of my mind is making its feelings known again. I don't want to hear them, I don't want to think about them, and I sure as hell do not want to discuss them with Damon. Today or ever.

Unfortunately, I am a bad actress.

"What?" Damon asks.

"Nothing. Just waiting to hear about New Orleans."

He narrows his eyes at me. "Seriously. You just thought of something. I can tell. I did not take Ecstasy- Oh." He relaxes his head back into my pillow and grins. "Jealous?"

I relax too. He wouldn't joke if there was anything to worry about.

"No, I didn't sleep with anybody, Elena," he says, drawing my name out sarcastically like he used to when we were "just friends" and half-flirting half-fighting all of the time. "I go strictly top-shelf these days."

I frown at him and bite his abs, just to be difficult. "I'm not a drink."

"Sometimes you are," he says, wiggling his eyebrows. Then he drops it. "In poor taste. Stop distracting me, you're making my jokes worse."

"You don't need help for that. No, tell me about New Orleans. I wasn't worried, by the way. It was just a passing thought."

"Sure you were worried." He gestures to himself, smirking. "This body, in New Orleans? Trouble for sure."

I poke him in the side. I don't have the energy for a punch after the sex we had earlier. "New Orleans." I remind him.

"Actually there's not that much to say about it. There are a lot of people who want to feed a vampire. It's kind of a fetish scene, actually. So, compulsion free, except that I did compel them not to tell anyone about it, which seemed intelligent. Not as safe, because you can find your way around that command if you still have the memory, but people like that say they see vampires ten times a day. So nobody listens. Kind of a great loophole, all around."

I think this over, stroking his shoulder and arm.

"You ok?"

I look back up to his face. "Yeah," I say automatically, then consider. "No, I really am. Why?"

"This is a lot to take in. I guess there's not much left that can shock you with the vampire stuff, but still."

"Did you like it? With the Goths, or whatever?"

"Not as much as I like drinking from you. But I need more than I can take from you and if you become a vampire, then I'm back 100% on the vacuum-sealed diet. That gets as old as TV dinners after a while." He looks up at the ceiling, tucking his free hand back behind his head again.

"The Goths are a weird bunch. I kind of like how crazy they all are. Some of them care way too much about what other people think and some of them don't care at all. A lot of them are more messed up than I am."

"So is that some kind of permanent solution?"

"It'd be nice to find the subculture closer by. I bet I could if I wanted. If I looked hard, I could probably even find one without pancake makeup and with a healthier diet than cigarettes and martinis."

"You mean somebody you'd want to drink from." I frown. "I guess I never thought you had much in the way of criteria for that except that you obviously like pretty girls."

"You can kind of taste people's habits in their blood. If I'm going for some conscience-free feeding, I'd rather nab somebody without so many issues. Some of those Goth kids have enough baggage to have Stefan calling for the bellhop."

I choke back a laugh and frown at him. "That's mean, Damon."

"Yeah, but funny," he says unrepentantly.

"So that was your do-gooder compulsion?"

He winces. "I was hoping you forgot that slip."

"As if I'd miss an opportunity to torment you with fresh evidence of your better nature," I tease.

"Yeah, imagine," he says with heavy sarcasm.

"So what did you do?"

"None of your business," he tells me, touching the end of my nose. "You hungry?"

"Yeah," I realize. It's an unfamiliar feeling, now. "Starved."

"Want me to cook something?" he asks in a casual way that makes me think he really wants to.

"Are you kidding? It's my cooking or Jeremy's since you left," I say, avoiding the fact that I haven't eaten anything that didn't come out of a Quaker Oats box in six weeks. Instead, I kiss his stomach one more time and roll to my feet to head for the shower.

"You're looking kinda thin," he says, a shadow crossing his face.

"Teenage culinary skills diet. Think I can market that?"

"Elena?"

His tone isn't playful and my stomach drops a little. Maybe we're not done with confession time.

I pause in the bathroom door. "Hmmm?"

"About a month after I left, Stefan called to accuse me of forbidding you to talk to him. I told him to untwist his panties but I was a little curious."

"About what?"

He's back to studying my ceiling. I ought to have Jeremy paint a mural up there for him, if he's going to spend so much time avoiding my eyes by staring at it.

"When he left, you didn't have any problem hanging out with me. And you didn't-" he breaks off and glances warily at me.

"I didn't what, Damon?" I ask, going back to him and sitting on the edge of the bed. I think we're both going to need a lot of reassurance to settle back into our normal rhythm after this fight. We've always fought big and loud and flaming hot, but this was a new record even for us.

"Look so different," he whispers, touching the sunken, dark area under my eye.

I know I've lost a lot of weight I didn't have to lose, because everybody's mentioned it. Nightmares kept me awake most nights, too, so sleep hasn't been going great. Still, the worst thing about the last six weeks was how I felt like somebody had bled my personality out through my ears. It was like my skin was a dress draped over a mannequin, held up by a thin layer of plastic with nothing inside.

And I can smile at him now because that was so easy to fix. Damon walked onto my porch and said "Make-up sex?" And the anger burned me straight back to life.

I'd rather not have my happiness totally depend on someone else being nearby. But I know better than to think I'm capable of keeping people at enough of a distance that they don't have the power to hurt me. I'm not that girl, and I don't want to be.

I capture Damon's hand. "I'm fine now. Though I think you're going to have to be pretty careful not to get yourself killed. I mean, I knew you were okay when you were gone this time, and I even thought it was pretty likely that you'd come back eventually, but I was kind of a mess. I'm going to have to take better care of you in the future. Keep you around a while."

"I'm the one who needs to take better care of you," he says, covering my ribs with his hands as if he can press the flesh back onto them. "I just don't understand why you didn't call Stefan."

My head snaps back in surprise. "What? Why would I do that?"

"For company. I'm not saying that you'd un-choose me-" His eyes are saying that. They're saying it loud. "But you care about him, he's your friend and he would have helped you."

"Yeah, and it would have led him on and distracted him from his new path of trying to find moderation and he wouldn't have been able to resist pointing out every wrong thing you've ever done. Damon, I didn't need him. I needed you."

His voice is low, his jaw so tight that I can't make out the words in what he says next.

"Non-vampire hearing, Damon. You've gotta give me some volume, honey," I tell him playfully. There's no reason for him to be so serious. He's back. He doesn't want to kill people anymore. Everything is going to be fine.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry that I hurt you, that you had to go through all this just because you cared about me." He voice carries an echo of awe, of confusion.

I go completely still because Damon has never, never apologized to me, or anybody. He'll say things to make me realize he's sorry but he never says it.

I blink and try to recover. "I wouldn't take it back, Damon. I knew what I felt for you was too strong to be convenient, that it would be hard to make that kind of passion fit into daily life." I touch his cheek with a flirty smile. "But you make it worth it, believe me."

It hurts my heart that he has such a hard time believing how much I care about him, even after all this time. He usually buries it under three or four layers of arrogance, but we're both raw today.

I stretch out next to him again, pressing my face against his neck, holding my hand against his heart.

"Andie was right," he murmurs.

"About what?" I ask. He never talks about Andie, either, though I think he and Stefan might be even on the Lexie scorecard after that terrible mess. Stefan killed her on my birthday. I shiver, thinking about it.

"She said love changes you. I kinda thought she meant by being whipped. But she was right. It makes everything different. Every little thing."

"Of course it does." I lift my head and smile teasingly at him "As if you haven't noticed all the ways you've changed me?"

He matches my smile. "You mean other than making you sexually insatiable?"

"Oh, I'm satiable, alright. But only by you." I kiss him briefly. "I shouldn't encourage your towering ego, I know, but it's true. I was talking about other stuff, though. Like how you taught me that it's okay even in the midst of something really serious to make jokes, that it doesn't mean you don't care about what's going on. You reminded me how to have fun again, be spontaneous."

I trace his lips with my finger and he watches my face, fascinated but a little dubious of what I'm saying.

"You taught me that even though self-control is important sometimes, at other times it's just as important to let go and do what you really feel." I let my hand wander down his chest, teasing his inner thigh. His muscles tighten in my wake and I smile with the knowledge of my power over his body.

"It's ironic, because you taught me not to just strive for who I wanted to be, but also accept who I am right now."

"Yes, and I think we were all disappointed to find that your true self liked Dancing with the Stars," he says dryly. "But why is that ironic?"

I straddle him and lean down for a kiss. It only takes a second for the pressure of our lips together to ignite into something unbearably hot. It only ever takes a second and I love that. I take his wrists and pin them over his head, deepening the kiss until we're both breathless and his hips are pushing up against me and he pulls his hands free again so he can touch me.

"Because you accept who you are, but you still don't understand how I can love that, love you." I nip his lower lip. "Trust me, it isn't difficult."

His hips rising beneath me are all raw sex and a power I intend to make full use of in a moment, but his hands are very gentle on the thin skin over my hipbones.

"Fortunately, I have plenty of time to spend convincing you," I whisper against his mouth, pulling back just enough that I can enjoy his ice-blue eyes. They're already molten with want, but still tinged with his uncertainty, and full of love for me, always. They're Damon. They are, he is, what I can't live without. What shocks my life into Technicolor instead of plain black and white. If it takes me every day of my life to make him understand how much I love him…

Well, then it'll be a great life.